When I speak with many business executives, there is a common belief that 24/7 commerce has increased the amount of time that customers devote to purchasing goods and services. The reasoning goes that the ability to shop in slippers at midnight creates endless possibilities for promotions and sales.
Yet, the figures on American time-use released in June by the U.S. government for 2009 tell a different story. Although the general belief is that 24/7 expands the time to buy, consumers spend much less time shopping than we think.
The World is Competing for Less Than 3% of Waking Hours
The latest government research on Americans reveal that adult consumers on average spend a paltry 28.8 minutes a day in the act of buying—that's less than 3 percent of waking hours! This activity includes researching and browsing products and services, weekly grocery shopping, and e-commerce in addition to the purchasing transaction itself.
To demonstrate the scarcity of time and impact on behavior, here is a short video that highlights this trend based on my research:
Certainly the Internet has made us more efficient; we have more access to information and reviews that compare products online. Yet with all the efficiencies we've gained, the amount of information to absorb and number of product options have also exploded. Demonstrating the vast increase in the number of products, the U.S. Patent and Trademark office issued almost 25,000 trademarks in 1974; today, there are almost 200,000 trademarks issued. Conduct a Google search and the pages and pages of choices attest to the proliferation of global vendors vying for attention. Grocery shelves are bulging with fresher, whiter, and "new and improved." Social media users are generating more information than ever.
There are simply too many choices competing for too little time--often leaving us feeling overwhelmed by it all. It is not surprising that so many providers utilize free offers to gain attention and product adoption in this sea of choice. Free is a tool used to contend with scarcity in a time-onomic world.
Shifting to New Channels, Not Increasing Time
Mobile and Internet technologies have created more channels to reach the consumer. Yet this has resulted in shifting the time and methods that customers' utilize to buy rather than increasing the overall time devoted to shopping.
Whether it is high noon, midnight, or a weekend, 24/7 capability has made predicting when a customer will buy more difficult than ever. In our instant gratification society, getting the timing and context right with the customer is a key success factor in today's markets.
Although challenging, this trend yields new opportunities for savvy companies. Instead of attempting to chase when that 3 percent of buying time will occur, new approaches to selling are emerging by making your products and services available and resident with the customer. For example developing a platform, utilizing predictive capabilities, or pre-setting purchasing defaults on a toolbar that enable customers to easily find you when they are ready to buy.
There are many new ways to play this game. I'll explore such concepts further in future articles.
Adrian Ott has been called, "One of Silicon Valley's most respected, (if not the most respected) strategist" by Consulting Magazine. She is the author of the forthcoming book The 24-Hour Customer: New Rules for Winning in a Time-Starved, Always-Connected Economy (HarperCollins, August 2010) and CEO of Exponential Edge Inc. consulting. Follow Adrian on Twitter at @ExponentialEdge
This article reflects the author's opinion and does not represent those of clients and affiliates.
Video data sources: The 24-Hour Customer (book) & www.24HourCustomer.com/videoreferences.
Song: "Boogie Down" (Knee Deep Mix) by Atomphunk [©2004 Deep Funk Records, LLC, Used with Permission]
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